Tunable laser revenues to surpass $1 billion

Sept. 5, 2001
Sept. 5, 2001--More than a dozen laser manufacturers have introduced tunable diode lasers to pursue promising applications in the optical networking market.

More than a dozen laser manufacturers have introduced tunable diode lasers to pursue promising applications in the optical networking market. Another group of companies are developing tunable diode lasers for this market. A new report from KMI Corporation and Sirraya, Inc. identifies and profiles 26 manufacturers that have tunable-laser products available or are in the process of developing them. The report estimates that the tunable laser market will grow rapidly and will soon surpass $1 billion in annual revenues.

The report, Tunable Lasers for Optical Communications: Technology, Products, and Applications, provides an assessment of tunable diode laser technology, a discussion of the networking applications, and the profiles of the manufacturers and companies aspiring to serve this market. The report is a joint publication of Providence, RI-based KMI Corporation, a market research firm, and Sirraya, Inc., a technical consultancy.

The report's technology roadmap groups the tunable lasers being developed for optical communications applications into three general groups: monolithic cavity edge emitter lasers, external cavity diode lasers (ECDLs), and vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs). The monolithic cavity edge emitter family of lasers is based on principles of Fabry-Perot and distributed feedback (DFB) lasers, with greater integration of device elements, such arrays of DFB cavities or new schemes for integrating distributed Bragg reflectors. Advantages of this family of lasers include stability, reproducibility, and potential cost efficiencies. However, the integrated nature of these lasers has functionality drawbacks. Thirteen of the companies profiled in the report have developed monolithic cavity edge emitter lasers.

ECDLs utilize separate optical components as tuning elements in a hybrid cavity containing a semiconductor gain medium. This category of laser has traditionally been for non-communications applications, but it holds promise as a communications solution if sufficient cost advantages as well as robustness and reliability can be developed. Three companies in the report have ECDL products.

VCSELs hold an advantage in that their tunable cavity is short and can utilize a Fabry-Perot cavity. This results in lower-cost solutions. Three companies in the report have VCSELs for the 1550-nm region in various stages of development.

Monolithic Cavity:















Blue Sky Research


New Focus




Princeton Optronics

Today, the initially identified use of tunable lasers is for inventory management and sparing. The capability of a tunable laser to adjust to any wavelength means that a network operator only needs to keep one tunable laser for sparing/inventory instead of one laser for each lit wavelength of the network. If an operator's desired inventory is 20 lasers for each wavelength, a 160-channel system would require 3,200 fixed-wavelength lasers for inventory. At a typical price of $1,000, the cost would be $3.2 million for laser inventory alone. Although tunable lasers are more expensive than their fixed-wavelength counterparts, placing a mere 20 lasers in inventory to cover the same requirements of 3,200 lasers has obvious cost benefits for the network operator.

Besides inventory management and sparing, new applications for tunable lasers are emerging as networks evolve. Tunable lasers will improve the efficiency of a variety of functions, including protection and restoration, bandwidth on demand, optical cross-connects, wavelength routing, and next-generation metro networking.

About KMI Corp.:

KMI Corporation, a fiberoptics market research firm, provides reports on worldwide fiberoptics markets, bi-monthly newsletters, fiberoptics route maps, and conferences on global, regional and undersea fiberoptics markets. For more information, visit www.kmicorp.com.

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